Tips For Purchasing Graphics Cards
Trying to determine the best graphics card for your needs can be a daunting task. Even after you decide which GPU manufacturer to go with you’ll still need to sift through a plethora of graphics card models that will all be trumpeting different features. Many of which will leave you scratching your head. The bottom line is that the “one size fits all” model simply doesn’t apply to graphics cards. The right one for you will depend on an array of external and internal considerations some of which are crucial to overall performance and some which are just a matter of personal taste. Below, we’ll take you through the process of choosing the right graphics card.
First Things First: What’s A GPU?
“GPU” stands for Graphics Processing Unit. Unbeknownst to some the graphics card actually has its own processor. Just as the motherboard on your computer has its own processor called the CPU. Unlike the CPU/motherboard arrangement where they are separate components that can (in theory) be mixed and matched, the graphics card and GPU come bundled together as a single unit. Some graphics cards use the AMD GPU while others use the NVIDIA. Once you determine which one is a better fit for you you’ll then need to choose which GPU/graphics card bundle to purchase.
Make Sure Your Case Can Accommodate The Card You Want
Larger graphics cards tend to run quieter and cooler than their more compact counterparts. However, some of the bigger graphics cards can be huge with multiple fans and an enormous heat sink. Which means there’s a decent chance your PC case simply won’t be able to accommodate them. In addition, large cards can be heavy too. So heavy that they may cause the expansion slot to bend under their weight. What makes them so heavy? It could be anything from all those fans to the material they’re made of. For instance: a copper heat sink weighs more than an aluminum one. Keep in mind too that a large graphics card may take up several expansion slots.
Make Sure It’s Compatible With Your Monitor Setup
Compatibility issues are not confined solely to the relationship between the graphics card and the case. You also need to be sure the graphics card will be compatible with your monitor setup. Just about every card has at least one HDMI connector and one DisplayPort. But what if you need two? In addition, if you have an older monitor that needs a DVI-D connection will the graphics card support that? Make note of what you need by way of connectors and make sure the card you have your eye on will accommodate those needs.
Clockspeeds And More
During the 80s your state-of-the-art 486 had a clockspeed of 66 MHz. By the turn of the century clockspeeds had surpassed 1 GHz. About 10 years ago clockspeeds settled into a range between about 4 and 5 GHz but haven’t really progressed past that barrier (with the exception of some 8 or 9 GHz processors that need to be cooled by liquid nitrogen). Why? It mostly has to do with transistors. As in, the more transistors you stuff onto a chip the greater the chance of current leakage and the greater the heat generated. For practical reasons it was determined some time ago that no good purpose was served by forcing super chips on a public that didn’t need them anyway.
What you’re looking for is a balance between clockspeed, number of cores and RAM. For all but the top-tier graphics card like the RTX 2080 ti there’s no need to push the envelope on clockspeed and pay hundreds of dollars more for one of those liquid nitrogen cooled GPUs. The bottom line is that, while clockspeed is important, it’s not AS important as some make it out to be. Therefore you may just want to put a priority on cooling and get a card with 3 small quiet fans instead of one with a liquid nitrogen radiator or 1 big cooling fan.
While most brand name graphics cards are incredibly reliable there is always the remote possibility that yours will wind up in a body bag needing to be returned. Warranty lengths vary greatly and can run anywhere from 1 to 4 years. As we said, chances are you’re never going to need the warranty but if you are not the kind that likes to leave things to chance you may want to go with the longer warranty. Keep in mind too when purchasing a graphics card that customer service tends to improve with the brand. Good support is one reason they got so popular to begin with.
This is an entirely subjective matter. Some people could care less what their gaming rig looks like. For them it’s all about performance. On the other hand there are those who insist their gaming rig is trippin’. They want LED lights, a glass case, glow in the dark strips and more. If your motherboard and graphics card are from different manufacturers you may have some work to do to get the LED lights on both to work in harmony. In addition there’s the color of the card to consider. If yours is red and black it might not look so good with a gold-themed motherboard, or vice versa. If you want to use all blue LED lighting you should be sure it’s not going to clash with other colors on the rig. At the end of the day however, this stuff is entirely up to you.
The Bottom Line
With few exceptions there is not a whole lot separating the best graphic cards from one another today so you need to be primarily concerned with practical matters such as:
- Whether or not the graphics card will fit into your case
- Whether it will be compatible with your monitor setup
- Whether you want things like LED lights and
- Whether you need your rig to be portable or if it’s going to stay in one place.
Keep the above information in mind and you should wind up with a graphics card that dovetails with both your tastes and your needs.